In the past, the drive-in was the place for family film viewing. These days, multiplexes are entrenched in the suburbs and property values are soaring around central Ohio, factors that have contributed to the likely loss of another Columbus-area drive-in at the end of this summer. If all goes according to plan, the Kingman Drive-In in Delaware will say good-bye when the season’s final outdoor movie fades to black.
Though the numbers have decreased significantly over the past 30 years, Ohio is still a stronghold for the drive-in industry. The first Ohio location opened in Akron in 1937 and, at the peak of business, the state hosted 189 drive-ins. With 48 now remaining, Ohio has more open-air theaters than any state in the country, according to Kipp Sherer of the Ohio-based national website drive-ins.com.
Sherer happened to be in the projection booth at the Kingman this past Saturday night, May 19. Over a PA system, Kingman manager Dale Zinn, who’s worked at the drive-in for 17 years, hawked the concession stand’s wares and encouraged patrons to honk their horns to get the movie started. He shared his workspace with his father Bill, a 58-year veteran of the exhibition business.
Along with Sherer, Pete Burczyk was hanging out behind the projectors. He discussed plans to release a series of vintage B-movies on DVD with a virtual drive-in theme. Burcyzk leased the Kingman for a special Halloween program last year and hopes that he can do the same at the end of this season.
“It’s a completely different experience from multiplexes,” Burczyk said of the open-air cinema. “It a family experience.”
Kingman’s large audience this weekend evening backs up Burczyk’s observation: Mini-vans and other family-sized vehicles are frequently spotted and kids are everywhere. The drive-in’s playground was hopping before the feature presentation of Shrek.
“As time goes own, people will find that when they don’t have it, they want it,” Burczyk said.
Many locals have never stopped wanting it, according to Dale Zinn. “Business is really good,” he said. “I can’t figure out why he [the owner] is getting rid of it.”
Zinn said customers have been upset by news of the pending closing and are afraid that soon they’ll be left with few entertainment options in Delaware.
The Kingman is owned by Skip Yassenoff, also the owner of Columbus’ other first-run drive-ins, the 40 East and the South Drive-In. Yassenoff inherited the businesses from his father, Frank, who opened the first Columbus drive-in, the Riverside, in 1940. The Kingman, debuting in 1948, is the oldest of the remaining facilities.
Yassenoff is selling the acreage to M/I Homes because, basically, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I had a chance to sell the land for a lot of money,” he explained. The 20-plus acres on which the Kingman sits is part of a total land parcel of 115 acres; Yassenoff found that buyers weren’t interested in acquiring just part of the land or developing around a drive-in.
But the fate of the Kingman isn’t sealed yet. In order to build homes on the land, the area must be re-zoned for residential use by the Delaware City Council. M/I Homes has a formidable opponent in Perkins Observatory, which resides just down the road and is trying to block the re-zoning. It’s feared that a buildup of homes and retail in the area will lead to light pollution, a glare caused by too-bright, poorly focused lighting that artificially brightens the night sky, making for poor star watching conditions at the observatory.
“M/I has to work through the process,” Yassenoff said, indicating his belief that the home builder and the city of Delaware will be able to reach an agreement.
In the meantime, the Kingman will screen double features each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening at sunset, with a flea market every Sunday afternoon, through mid-September. For program info, dial (740) 548-4202 or click to drive-inmovies.com.